INDIA. Mumbai (Bombay). 1996. Red Boy during Holi festival.

11 Lessons Steve McCurry Has Taught Me About Photography

Steve McCurry: easily one of the most iconic photographers of all time.

Here are practical lessons that McCurry has taught me about photography:

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1. Each picture standing on it’s own

“What is important to my work is the individual picture. I photograph stories on assignment, and of course they have to be put together coherently. But what matters most is that each picture stands on its own, with its own place and feeling”

In today’s world, photography projects are essentially dead. Social media has disintegrated the photo project; we live in a society of single images on social media.

In one way, the single image is incredibly important. It can embed itself into our memories, and evoke strong feelings of wonder in the world.

My practical suggestion is this:

Work on photography projects which are meaningful to you, but also include photos in your projects as if they were single photos.

2. Capture the soul of people

Most of my photos are grounded in people, I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face. – Steve McCurry

Ultimately, I think photographing people is more interesting and meaningful than photographing places. Why? Philosophically, I don’t think there is anything more beautiful than the human being.

To find more fulfillment in your photography, I encourage you to photograph more human beings!

3. Use your camera as a tool of hope!

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For those who were desperate, my camera became an object of hope (…) Throughout my year-long coverage of the monsoon world, my strongest conviction was that I was involved in the fundamentals of life. – Steve McCurry

Be an optimistic, hopeful photographer. Love life, and make your photos affirm life!

4. The camera will open up yourself to the world!

INDIA. Mumbai (Bombay). 1996. Red Boy during Holi festival.

My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport. – Steve McCurry

Open your eyes, heart, and soul to the world — the camera is your passport.

5. Photography transcends spoken language

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The photograph is an undeniably powerful medium. Free from the constraints of language, and harnessing the unique qualities of a single moment frozen in time. – Steve McCurry

Photography is amazing: you can communicate with anyone in the world with photographs!

6. Show slices of ordinary and beautiful life through your photos

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A picture can express a universal humanism, or simply reveal a delicate and poignant truth by exposing a slice of life that might otherwise pass unnoticed. – Steve McCurry

7. Don’t lose hope in photography

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In our contemporary society, one so over-inundated with imagery, it is easy to overlook the power of a single frame to change the way we look at the world, or rally disparate hearts to a single cause. Yet, ours is a society shaped by this very phenomenon. – Steve McCurry

8. Your photos have the ability to profoundly influence others!

AFGHANISTAN. Mazar-i-Sharif. 1992. Hazrat Ali mosque.

There are certain, inescapable images, forever part of our collective consciousness, that influence who we are, whether we are cognizant of it or not. – Steve McCurry

9. Make photos that burn themselves into the mind of your viewer!

CAMBODIA. Angkor. 1999. Caretaker of Ta Prohm Wat, a 2.5-acre temple housed within a walled 12th-century 148-acre complex.

A still photograph is something which you can always go back to. You can put it on your wall and look at it again and again. Because it is that frozen moment. I think it tends to burn into your psyche. It becomes ingrained in your mind. A powerful picture becomes iconic of a place or a time or a situation. – Steve McCurry

10. Be patient

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“If you wait, people will forget your camera, and the soul will drift up into view.”

11. Photograph what is important to you

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“It’s important for you to spend your time photographing things that matter to you. You need to understand the things that have meaning to you, and not what others think is important for you.”


Steve McCurry contact sheet for the last roll of Kodachrome
Steve McCurry contact sheet for the last roll of Kodachrome

Shoot what’s important to you. Ask yourself, “Do I like my own photos?” And if nobody would ever see your photos, what would you photograph for yourself?


More of my favorite photos by Steve McCurry:

steve mccurry photography7TIBET. Amdo. 2001. Pilgrim at a Stupa.steve mccurry photography9steve mccurry photography19

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Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

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